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Ch. 41 - The Well Rises (FINAL CHAPTER)

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The ground shook and several hunters dropped to their knees. Lacey put her hands out to keep her balance. The only sound was the roar rising in the gorge of the well. Fog snaked from the trees in tendrils, sucked toward the well like water running down a drain. The misty coils spun together in a grey ball, churning in the air above the well, growing bigger and bigger.

The red glow shot out of the well into the cloud of mist, moving too fast to see. Blayd took several steps back, and Berellan followed him. Lacey wondered if she should too, but Meemu held his position, so she stood her ground too. Whatever the well threw at her, it couldn't be any worse than everything else it had already done.

Red lightening flickered in the ball, and then a hand emerged. It pointed at Goeden. His eyes bulged, like a rat caught by its tail.

The mist evaporated and, in its place, suspended in the air over the well, was a woman. She wore a strange jumpsuit, and held a large bundle in one arm. The other arm moved and this time pointed at Mama.

"I tried! I didn't get here in time!" Mama cried.

Then the finger swung to Lacey. The woman's eyes glowed red at her. Lacey saw the bundle, and knew it was Ella. She had failed her sister. She'd left her all alone that day by the river. She'd given in to her instincts and chased that stupid white rabbit, instead of taking her responsibilities seriously. Because of Lacey, Ella was nothing but a lump of rags in a strange ghost's arms.

"Wish!" The ghost woman howled, as if it was an accusation. Her finger cast about at the rest of the hunters, and she screamed, "Wish. Wish. Wish."

Every hunter fell beneath the red glow in the ghost woman's eyes. The glow spread to their eyes and they stared off into nothing, rocking back and forth and muttering--raw desire on their faces.

They were all going to wish. That many people wishing all at once might create a curse large enough to affect the whole Wish Wood, and Pine Ridge. Maybe more. She didn't want to find out.

Lacey, Goeden, and Meemu were the only ones who were not affected. But Goeden was just slouched on the ground, in his own trance of self-pity. Meemu was hissing and spitting, but he was just a small cat.

Lacey placed her hand on the well. This had all started because of her; she had to fix this. She would take whatever curse was the consequence.

Red eyes fixed on her. Everything she had ever desired tugged at her heart, begging to be claimed—to be wished.

"I wish," Lacey flung her words across the clearing. "That everyone was free from your curse!"

The ghost woman drew back, her eyes wide.

"That's right, Adeline," Lacey shouted. "You heard me. I don't want anything for myself—just for them."

The ghost woman's head slowly shook back and forth.

"I WISH that Devan and his mother could find peace!"

The ghost woman flew at Lacey, howling, and stopping inches from her face.

"I WISH for my friends in the camp to have a better life."

The fury slowly leeched from Adeline's face, and the red glow in her eyes faded until the natural blue color was all that remained. The only red was the rims of her eyelids, puffy as if she had been crying for centuries. Lacey felt a twinge of pity, not just for this Founder, but every Founder. Even for Goeden. How long did pain last when you couldn't die?

"I wish," she said, more softly, "That your pain would end."

Adeline nodded and carefully laid Ella at Lacey's feet. Then she spun up into the air, and started to glow--not red--white this time, like a mirror for the Night Mother. She grew brighter and brighter until it hurt to look at the shining brilliance of her. Finally, she ended with a flash and the clearing was plunged into darkness again. The forest itself seemed to breath a sigh of relief.

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